Re: Camion Code, new phonemic writing system

From: Markus Kuhn (
Date: Fri Aug 20 1999 - 03:57:01 EDT

JoAnne Marie wrote on 1999-08-20 02:26 UTC:
> I have been a member of the Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) since March

More info on

(Afer I have already become a member of the U.S. Metric Association
<>, the SSS is probably another nice
Don Quichote club that I might consider to join ... ;-)

The underlying acceptance problem with spelling reforms requires some
understanding of the neural information-processing algorithms that our
brains employ when we read. Experienced adult readers do not process an
alphabetic decomposition of words. We do this only in first grade
reading classes. Soon after that stage, our brains actually treat the
Latin phonetic representation of words very much like Chinese brains
threat their ideographic representations of words: We recognize either
an entire word or for long words we recognize entire parts. Only in
those rare situations where we encounter a word (such as a name) that we
haven't seen in a long time, we fall back into a character-by-character
reading mode where we actually process the script as a phonetic
representation (something the Chinese can't do in their writing system).
If you'd use a video camera to observe the movements of your pupils
while you read, you'd notice that they jump from one unit of recognition
to the next. At rare words such as Cherenkofskoye, your eye sticks to
the word for over a second to decode each phoneme, while otherwise you
jump from word to word (or fast readers even from groups of words to
groups of words) in a tiny fraction of a second, usually not even
noticing minor spelling errors. What the brain is actually doing here
(for those of you familiar with the basics of information theory) is to
recognize units of roughly equal entropy at a time. This keeps the
information rate constant and roughly near the maximum that the
attention control mechanisms in our brain would allow.

The fact that experienced readers treat words written in the Latin
script very much like ideographs that are recognized as a whole without
further decomposition is a good explanation for the resistance that
spelling reforms usually face. The neural reorganization necessary to
learn a significantly different spelling is almost as significant as
learning an entire new language. The only one who benefit from spelling
reforms are 6-year olds (and their teachers), and they do not have a lot
of political and literary influence on our society. The main question
that the design of a realizable spelling reform has to face, is what
amount of neural restructuring (= relearning) the adults of the current
generation are willing to do, and we all know, how lazy and unflexible
adults are in this respect. Adult readers are much more concerned that
the spelling matches their already engraved recognition patterns than in
that there is some neat logic and system underlying the spelling,
because they do not process this underlying logic most of the time

(who just survived the 1998 (very
minor) German spelling reform)

Markus G. Kuhn, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK
Email: mkuhn at,  WWW: <>

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